Gender Issues and Women’s Portrayal in Secular Amharic Songs Produced in Cassettes (in 1997 E.C.)

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Addis Ababa University


This study explored the content of 653 Amharic songs produced in cassettes in 1997 E.C. in order to assess women’s portrayal and existing gender issues in the lyrics. The songs were analyzed based on a coding sheet that was developed using 16 physical traits, 19 personality traits and 3 variables on division of labor related to women. In addition, in-depth interviews were undertaken with 10 songwriters in order to assess what affects the content of songs, and to study women’s role in writing lyrics. The results show that the most dominant song types are songs on romantic love at 72.3%, while the least frequent song types are songs on unromantic love amounting to 1.8%. The result also revealed that the most frequent value in regards to personality traits is portrayal of the woman as dependent. This was found in 84 songs or 12.9% of the whole. Women were presented with both positive and negative connotations. However, from the cumulative sum of the portrayals, the study generally affirmed the assumption that women’s portrayal in Amharic songs produced during in 1997 E.C. is more negative than positive. This means that women are more portrayed as untrustworthy, dependent, irrational, incompetent, cruel, careless, haughty, jealous and as quitters than as trustworthy, independent, assertive, and fulfilling. Concerning division of labor, women were also portrayed as engaging mainly in domestic responsibilities than in the public sphere. In relation to women’s power over the messages transmitted through this media, it is also found out that women play limited roles (being only 6.9 % of the songwriters in 1997 E.C.).Therefore, this shows that what is considered to be women’s experience is more expressed by men than women. The study also showed that women singers more than male singers, were found to transmit negative portrayals of women in relation to such traits as dependence, and incompetence. On the other hand, women singers were also observed portraying women more as assertive, and trustworthy. This shows that women are socialized into accepting and reflecting such definitions. Therefore, there is a need to increase women’s confidence with regard to their capacity and skills. Generally, the study is significant in its contribution as a background information for further studies aimed at assessing the effect of songs on the public, and on how women’s portrayal in songs affects women’s role in the public sphere



Gender Studies